What is Loss of Consortium?
In personal injury cases, Alabama law permits the spouse of an injured party to recover “loss of consortium” damages against the person that caused an injury to their spouse.
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Loss of Consortium Defined
Alabama law defines loss of consortium as the loss of “conjugal fellowship of [spouses], and the right to the company, society, co-operation, affection, and aid of the other in every conjugal relationship.” In modern language, this means the loss of companionship, society, sexual relations, assistance, and company.
For example, loss of assistance may occur when the injured spouse is unable to share in everyday tasks, such as taking care of the children, cleaning the house, or taking the dog for a walk.
Loss of companionship and society is when the non-injured spouse has lost the companionship of marriage. For example, they aren’t able to enjoy the love and affection of the injured party.
Loss of consortium damages are a class of non-economic damages awarded in personal injury cases, which also include pain and suffering and emotional distress.
Factors to Consider
The spouse of the injured party brings a claim for loss of consortium. Generally, a jury decides if a spouse deserves loss of consortium damages for injuries to their marital partner.
There are no “fixed standards to guide the jury, but rather it is left to their sound discretion.” However, the jury’s award is subject to correction by the court if there was a clear abuse of such discretion.
The jury may consider many factors in its decision:
- How stable was the marriage, and was it a loving relationship?
- The living arrangements of the spouses.
- The care and companionship given and received by each spouse.
- How long the spouses are expected to live.
Loss of Consortium for Other Parties
Loss of consortium, often called “loss of comfort” for closely related parties, is available in many other states to parties beyond the non-injured spouse. For example, parents might claim loss of comfort when their child is seriously injured. Occasionally, the children can claim loss of comfort when a parent is severely injured. In rare cases, grandparents and siblings have recovered damages for a loss of comfort claim.
Alabama does not extend loss of consortium claims to unmarried couples, parents of an injured child, or a child with an injured parent. Yet, the clear trend of the law in the United States is to recognize some or all of these other close relationships.
Limitations on Liability
The limitations on liability vary depending on the type of claim.
Medical malpractice cases do not have a cap on compensatory damages (economic and non-economic damages for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.).
In actions filed under Alabama’s wrongful death statute, non-economic damages like loss of consortium are not available – only punitive damages. Talk to your attorney for specifics about your case.
Statute of Limitations
Under Alabama law, the statute of limitations for bringing a personal injury claim is two years from the date of injury. Generally, the victim’s spouse files for loss of consortium when the injured spouse files claims for their damages. If the uninjured spouse does not file within two years of the injured spouse’s accident, they may lose their right to compensation.
Loss of consortium claims may or may not be successful, based on the facts of the case. Here are two examples.
Likely a Successful Claim
Mary is driving her truck home from volunteering at the local church. She’s carelessly hit by the driver of a Corvette named Alex, who was under the influence of prescription medications at the time. As a result, Mary suffers a broken back, becomes a paraplegic, and can’t have children. She was recently married to Jack, and they were planning to have a family with lots of children. As a result of Alex’s negligence, Mary and Jack’s sexual relationship and their dream of having children have been severely impacted. She is limited in performing household chores like cooking dinner or walking the dog. Jack may very well have a successful claim for loss of consortium.
Possibly an Unsuccessful Claim
Mark and Susan got married ten years ago. After five years, they drifted apart, abandoning marital activities and spending no time together. They live in separate apartments and barely speak to each other. They haven’t seen each other in months.
Mark gets injured in a boating accident that results in the loss of his ability to have sexual relations. Susan files a claim for loss of consortium. Based on the circumstances, a jury may very well not award loss of consortium damages in this case.
Get Legal Help
The law of loss of consortium has some difficult and challenging aspects. For example, the current law is that loss of consortium is only available to the plaintiff’s non-injured spouse. It’s not available to close unmarried couples, parents of injured children, or a child with an injured parent. However, the law is changing, and if you’re in this type of relationship with the injured person, maybe it’s worth talking to your lawyer about filing a claim for it.
Limitations on damages is another complicated area of law, with limitations varying depending on the type of claim – i.e., personal injury, medical malpractice, wrongful death, or other. Your lawyer can explain the details of limitations for your particular case.